NYCGA Online is a series of digital exhibits created by students in the Barnard College courses New York City’s Gilded Ages: Coming of Age, Past and Present, which took place during the fall 2015 semester, and New York City’s Gilded Ages: Spaces and Places, which took place spring 2017. In addition, a special project on neighborhoods was completed in the summer of 2016.
The First Gilded Age (ca. 1870–1920) was a period of extreme socioeconomic and cultural change. As this industrial era promoted a thriving American infrastructure, and a narrow band of wealthy elites at its peak, the transformation of the cityscape came at a cost: unfettered capitalistic gains were supported through the exploitation of natural resources, colonized peoples, immigrants, and laborers. Similarly, the Second Gilded Age, the global one of our modern era, has also been characterized by the dichotomy of economic inequality, and the consequent cultural, economic, and environmental changes that have resulted. Across both eras, nowhere were the effects of progress more prominent than at its epicenter: New York City.
So, what defines a Gilded Age of this massive urban scale? Key qualities include wealth and income inequality, immigration, and rapid changes in the urban environment. More importantly, however, are not the changes to the city, but to the people living in it. Both Gilded Ages are defined by an explosion of voices across all races, genders, and social classes, each occupying a different role in society that, when combined, reflects the myriad of different characteristics of these eras.
NYCGA Online exhibits investigate both Gilded Ages through the lenses of objects (Fall 2015 Exhibit, NYC’s Gilded Ages) and location (Summer 2016 Project, Neighborhoods, and Spring 2017 Exhibit, Spaces and Places).